With the advent of the internet and online communication, the idea of Online focus groups has always fascinated Qualitative researchers. And yet, online focus groups did not gain traction until the pandemic forced us to move that path.
Online focus groups have several advantages (And some disadvantages, too).
Online focus groups open up the possibility of geographic diversity, are cost-efficient, and can really be helpful in opening up the respondents if the topics are sensitive. It’s also less time-consuming, involves lesser logistical arrangements, and is hence quicker to conduct. Some of the disadvantages of online focus groups are difficult to observe the nonverbal’s, a bit lesser engaging (Just like any other online meetings), and limits the development of group dynamics.
Assuming you have weighed your pros and cons, let's dig into understanding how you can really ace conducting your Online Focus Groups. We will divide this into 2 main parts:
1. Preparations before conducting groups: Critical to the success of an online group or interview is what the research or field team does before the group or in-depth interview
2. Running the Focus group smoothly as moderator
Suitable Study Design:
· Online method is more effective in smaller groups, so choose the appropriate number of participants. Smaller groups are easy to moderate and more flexible.
· A thumb rule is that if F2F groups need 6 to 8 people, then most probably the online groups should have no more than 4 participants. To compensate for this, the researcher should plan for a higher number of groups. this also offers advantages in terms of a broader range of profiles, deeper probing in a smaller group, and focus groups on specific themes, adding up to the overall guide for discussion.
· Feel free to go broad if the study will benefit from diversity. Online focus groups make it possible to have a wider geographic representation. Of course, you would want to maintain similar demographics and psychographics to ensure the right group dynamics.
· Shorter duration for online groups, while higher interaction is recommended. People don’t concentrate that well online, so keeping it to the point works best.
· Compact but concentrated is the way to go. Shorter guides, or exercises like rating or ranking. Collect demographic information prior to save time and to directly jump into the subject and give it more time.
· Rating exercises can be turned into online polls during the groups to save time.
· We reimburse the physical traveling cost to participants in case of traditional focus groups. Similarly, ensure the cost of participation is covered in the case of online focus groups as well. We can offer a data package for the internet data needed for the duration of the group or interview or activity.
Suitable Stimulus Preparation:
· Online offers great abilities to show a wide range of stimuli in audio-visual form. We can show concept or product explanation through visuals or by using simple videos. If the study involves showcasing stimulus, make sure all the stimulus materials like concept cards, product videos, etc. are capable of being rendered in a format that can be shown online.
· If there are tasks to be done and programmed, then share those links and ensure those are working for all of them as the response/rating sheet.
Prepping up respondents:
· Make all participants log in and test all their equipment 10 minutes before time. These include video quality and audio quality on their device.
· Something as simple but vital as sharing the screen/playing a video to ensure everyone that each participant can hear and view any materials to be tested in the focus groups.
· Ask participants to find a quiet and private place where they can participate in the interview or focus groups without any interruption.
Prepping up Simultaneous Interpreter:
· If there is a simultaneous interpreter needed, do the tech check with the interpreter prior hand. Ensure Interpreter has a good and stable internet connection and a quiet place where they can conduct interpretation without losing focus.
Show rate is all about Reminders:
· Those who are qualified through prescreened should receive a calendar invite and email confirmation
· Ensure all participants ‘Accept’ the invitation. This is one way to make people to commit to the process.
· Nudge respondents by sending email one day prior as well as calling them and ensure to send reminders also before a couple of hours before the focus groups. Most of the calendar tools like calendly can send reminders automatically.
Get the start right: Thing to do just before the group or interview
· Ask people to join in 10 minutes earlier. Make sure everyone is ready, mentally, technically and in any other ways needed.
· Make sure to have your tech assistant around and can be on standby to address any tech glitches during the group or interview.
· But as both, the researcher and client need the evidence, the original audio/video source, so make sure that is being recorded and captures the full session.
While Running the focus groups
Consider two moderators:
· Running an online focus group is like drinking from a fire hose for both moderator and respondents. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to run the focus group alone. It might be good to engage a co-moderator for online focus groups.
Engage the respondents:
· Make sure that the Video cameras are on of all participants throughout this can minimize the distractions.
· Keep using their names while probing and encourage equal and active participation. Keep the focus group lifecycle in mind:
· Like physical focus groups even the online focus groups go through the stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing albeit a quick one. Ensure you allocate your time accordingly
Be the source of energy:
· While this is true for even traditional focus groups, this is even more important for online focus groups. Moderator needs to be bubbly. Acknowledge a good joke, laugh a little. Keep nodding. Be active.
· The key insight to a good outcome is a Discussion should be among the participants and not with the moderator.
Make the most of online platform
· Unlike traditional setup, the online setup allows respondents to type their comments in chat. Encourage participants to type their chats, Run online polls for stimulus, etc. Ensure technology to your advantage and engage participants. This is more feasible when you have a dual moderators.
Lastly, the Pandemic has changed the topography of several industries. Most qualitative research fieldwork is being conducted online today and this trend is here to stay even if the Pandemic recedes.
Thanks for reading and we wish you all the best for your next online qualitative research project.